28 June 2012

A mixed bag at Centraal Museum, Utrecht

I was enjoying my stroll in the south-east corner of the old centre of Utrecht when the threatened rains made their appearance and so I headed for the shelter of the Centraal Museum that I had just seen sign-posted.

I had no idea of what to expect and the broken English conversation with the receptionist did little to help. However, she did hand me a useful map of the buildings.

I headed for the section that I thought would be the history of Utrecht only to find piles of collections from digs that would probably be of interest to archaeologists but that's not me.

A little disappointed I headed for the top floor that promised architecture and furniture. There in an attic was a collection of drawings, models and furniture by Gerrit Rietveld. I was in my element. It had all the feel of an exhibition at RIBA and that is high praise.

The museum is oddly shaped which is where the map came in handy though it failed to point out that the cafe was closed on a Saturday afternoon.

Several of the exhibition spaces were devoted to modern art, some of it dating back almost a century so the epithet "modern" is less accurate.

An oddly shaped corner had an odd installation that I loved because there is so much going on it, right down to the copy of the English newspaper, The Mirror, on the bed. The white figure above the bed had a strangely haunting feel that evoked in me thoughts of some comic characters and their creators.

Other works were modern in a more traditional way and there were collections containing abstract paintings and landscapes that think they are abstracts.

One exhibition that I was keen to see was God Save The Queen covering the punk era in The Netherlands. I had to ask for directions to find it and then realised that the route shown on the map was a tunnel between the two buildings.

This was a large exhibition in its own right and I probably spent more time in this part of the museum than all the rest of it put together.

Of course that it helped that I liked the subject matter having been an early enthusiast of punk music in my student days.

There was plenty of memorabilia from that era to wallow in including record covers, posters, badges and newspaper clippings. I just have to see the number 999 and the song Emergency immediately bursts in to my head. Other songs came easily too and it took some effort to move on to other galleries.

The hardest one to leave had videos and comfy chairs and I spent quite a few very happy minutes watching Siouxsie and the Banshees in concert.

There was a lot more to God Save The Queen than the music and the contemporary art was excellent too.

While motivated by the same things as the music, or even the music itself, the art took different directions and it was hard to discern something that might be called Punk Art whereas Punk Rock is obvious.

The picture galleries were large, as they should be, and that meant that they could easily accommodate some huge pieces.

When it comes to art, size can make a difference and nothing quite makes an impact as walking in to a room and being confronted by a striking piece of art too large to fit in most houses.

The only thing I could possibly follow punk with was Miffy.

The Miffy exhibition was a relatively small display in a separate building, most of which was allocated to the Miffy shop. It was designed very much with the younger visitors in mind but there was also stuff there to engage the older people looking after them.

I liked the display showing the how a drawing is created and found examples of Dick Bruna's work interesting too. Though, in the final analysis, you just have to admit that Miffy is one cute bunny.

In the unlikely event that I ever find myself back in Utrecht one day then I'll certainly consider another visit to the Centraal Museum. Especially if it rains again.

27 June 2012

The Amsterdam Style

Amsterdam is famous not just for its canals but also for its Amsterdam Style of architecture that gives the centre a consistent and cosy feel.

I took tons of photographs but I'll be kind and share just five of my favourites here.

I love brick and there is an awful lot of it here.

It is very pretty brick too that is prevented from being oppressive by rows of neat regular windows and playful decorations above them.

A lot of the windows are shuttered and those shutters are thrown wide open to show off their bright colours. Red is most popular.

An unintended feature of the buildings is that a result of building on wooden piles below sea-level. Sometimes they move and that makes the building lean.

Nobody seems to be too concerned by this and leaning buildings are not just tolerated they are as well looked after as any other building. I guess that if they have been leaning for ages then they are not going to fall over too easily.

Occasionally some concessions are made to the leaners but that is just to fix the appearance by, for example, filling a gap between two buildings that now lean away from each other.

Dutch gables are pretty common, if not ubiquitous, so I spent a lot of time looking up as I walked around.

Actually I do that in every city as the crushing uniformity of world-brands often stops at the ground floor and the history is preserved above.

This building makes the last five because it ticks all the right boxes; it has the brick, windows, shutters and gable. And it's beautiful.

The old-fashioned lamp post in the front adds that little extra too. I am not sure if this one actually is old as they are busy replacing the old ones with new ones that look the same (purple) but have different lights.

The final building was selected for its pristine condition (though that is hardly unusual as the other pictures show) and for the decorated gables.

All this just goes to show that Amsterdam is a great place to go for people who like to stroll through cities to soak up their character and history. People like me.

26 June 2012

La Boheme at Glyndebourne

One of the things I like most about having a blog is that I can use it to remind me when I did things but this only works for the last six years.

So, while I know that I saw this production of La Boheme at Glyndebourne before I do not know when.

The programme notes says that it is a revival from 2000 so I must have seen it around then.

My memory of the earlier production was of exceptional singing from the two main male parts so this performance had something hard to live up to.

This was one of the times that I went with guests this year and that dictated the area that I sit in. and that's my excuse for sitting in £50 seats at the side which compares with a £230 top price and £75 for my preferred area.

On the plus side, Glyndebourne has refined its photography policy from "not in the auditorium" to "not during the performance" so I was able to take my usual picture from me seat with a clean conscience.

Some comments on the Glyndebourne website criticise the modern setting, which I find odd as it does not look that modern to me. It's certainly not contemporary.

The presence of a computer at one point may have suggested otherwise but that was the only lapse in the period portrayal.

The set worked very well allowing us to move between scenes smoothly and without too much fuss (mostly). It was all neatly done.

The Christmas celebrations went a little over the top for my taste and I am not sure that the story needed people juggling fire to make its point.

Luckily the staging's excess was limited to this one scene and was quickly forgiven then forgotten.

The story is what it is, and that is as classic an opera as you can get. Much as Swan Lake is the definitive ballet. It is thick with emotion and while you know that you'll be crying at the end you have to go through all the ups and downs of two relationships to get there.

Unfortunately the singing had to compete against my memories of the previous performance and while there was nothing particularly wrong with the two male leads they did not quite live up to aspirations.

The two female leads were up to the high mark and Mimi surpassed it. Colline, the tart with a heart, also acted her part very well and was utterly convincing.

I also liked Michael Sumuel's Schaunard very much. He has a very rich, strong and sweet voice that shocks on first hearing such is the surprise. His bass-baritone gave the sound some extra colour and I would have liked to have heard more of it. I'll have to take that up with Puccini one day.

Like La Cenerentola earlier in the season, La Boheme was Glyndebourne playing safe with a revival of a popular mainstream opera, and there is not a lot wrong with that. Glyndebourne has many strengths and is at its best when it plays to them and keeps it simple.

25 June 2012

Amsterdam means canals

Ever since I saw Puppet on a Chain (twice in one sitting) way back in 1971, Amsterdam has meant canals to me and naturally they were a key part of my city break there.

The hotel that I chose was sandwiched between two of them, each about 20m from the front door.

All my many walks around the town involved walking alongside them for long stretches and crossing over them frequently too.

In the centre of the town the canals are narrow and slide neatly between tidy residential streets. The small boats along each side are testament to the continuing usefulness of the canals for getting around the town.

The wider canals take bigger boats and while these days they are designed to be shallow enough for all the bridge this was not always the case and many of the bridges can lift to let taller boats through.

For some reason they did not pick one one design and keep to it and their are a variety of lifting mechanisms in place, some of which are still used. Others are kept for decoration, and I have no objections to that.

The paths either side of the canals vary greatly too.

A few are so narrow that they only allow pedestrians and the ubiquitous cyclists passage. Some are just about wide enough for cars who have to fight for space with the other road users. Only a few of the larger canals have the familiar (to us) roads and pavements.

Amsterdam is one of the cities that is sometimes known as the "Venice of the North" but the comparison is mostly false.

It is just the Red Light District that has the small bustling lanes that characterise Venice.

Elsewhere the tourists are far fewer and the city is remarkably quite even in parts of the city centre.

The canals also carry the proud hallmark of careful planning as they form a series of orderly horseshoes around the centre.

Canals mean bridges and, as with the paths, a good few of these are for pedestrians only and that only heightens the sense of calm.

Helpfully some of the bridges are clearly named with signs that decorate as much as they inform.

Amsterdam's canals are it brand. They are etched visibly across the city and they define it and shape it. They are a barrier to some and provide passage to others, they drag peace in to the heart of the city, and they provide vistas like no others.

23 June 2012

BCSA Garden Party 2012

A mistake on my part meant that I missed the British Czech and Slovak Association (BCSA) Garden Party in 2011 (I had booked a trip to Glyndebourne for the same day) so I made doubly sure of being there this year as there is so much about the event that I like.

Mostly it is the people. I've been connected to the Czech/Slovak scene in the UK for some years and have got to know and like a lot of the people well.

These relationships go back all the way to 1992 when I first worked in Prague with Richard, who was at the party as was Ruzena who I met on the same project a year or so later.

I would have gone if it had been a simple English garden party and the Czech/Slovak made the attraction even greater.

First it is the venue.

The now divorced Czech and Slovak Republics have split the former Czechoslovak Embassy between them (they got a wing each) and they share the courtyard garden where the BCSA Garden Parties are held.

This year the Czechs were our hosts and the reception area of their Embassy was open for food, drink and shelter from the rain that never came.

That food and drink was Czech and I spent a pleasant afternoon drinking draught Pilsner Urquell and avoiding the temptation to eat Czech cakes. I weakened on the bread and cheese though.

The afternoon fizzed past as conversations strung together. By then we were in a party mood and with the Czechs playing football that evening we headed off to The Swan to watch it. Their fine win improved the mood further, though the drinks may also have played a part in this.

Final stop was The Champion for a final drink or two before some semblance of common sense prevailed around 11pm and I finally conceded that it was time to go home.

An excellent afternoon and evening with excellent friends. What more could you ask for?

The Museum of the Amsterdam Canals

The Dutch name for this museum, Het Grachtenhuis, translates as Canal House which is a better name for it than The Museum of the Amsterdam Canals as it says very little about canals.

What it says a lot about is the history of Amsterdam and it does this through the stories of real people.

This was my third history of Amsterdam in three days. The other two had primarily looked at buildings and planning so the people angle was different again.

The Canal House (as I shall now call it) was easily technically the cleverest museum that I have ever been to and the clever things were very clever without being so clever that they swamped the story that they were trying to tell.

You have to have the audio guide and that is magic too. It knows what room you are in and tells you the appropriate story. In some of the rooms you can choose additional stories too.

The main part of the museum, up on the first floor is where all the clever stuff is.

There are a series of rooms and each one does something involving movement and sound.

In the first room you sit and watch a short video (if that's the right word) of the early history of Amsterdam.

All the buildings and backdrop here are white and images play across them.

This is a clever way of showing the seasons and major events like fires.

Another room shows some of the houses being built and little models inside can be seen cutting wood and knocking it in to place while the audio commentary adds the sounds of construction.

A highlight was the cleverest room.

A model house shows how each of the rooms would have been used while video (again the word is wrong) figures enacted little scenes for us.

If you look carefully you can see the piano through the pianist.

Each room in the house has its own story that you can select from the commentary. Surprisingly the English translation is very modern and very good.

The rooms are laid out in a circuit and there is one way through. I wish I had understood that from the outset and then I would have spent more time in the map room and taken some pictures there.

At one point you are asked to look outside through a window at the garden below where, you are told, the flower bed has been divided with metal sheets to show the pattern of houses in a specific street. Most of the plots are the same size but richer people bought two plots together to build one large house.

Another room had a large model of Amsterdam and I mentioned in a previous post that I always take photos of such models, and I did.

There was another film in this room and that required the shutters to open and close, which they did all by themselves.

This was a good room and I sat through the film twice.

I think some of the guides who were making sure that people did not get lost or stuck were getting a little bemused by then at how slowly I was going round. There was so much to see and I wanted to see it all.

The ground floor was a touch more traditional though we still had the audio guides and one room was stuffed with iPads promoting their Go!Canals app.

We were told the story of one of the previous owners of the house. A family had fled to Amsterdam from the south (that seemed to happen a lot) and set up in banking and architecture.

For a while they owned a chunk of the new territories in what is now the USA before it got occupied by land-grabbers they had to sell it.

The reception rooms of the Canal House are decorated as they would have been when the house was built and on display are several items relating to the house and its first occupants, such as these plans for the house, paintings and some business accounts.

By focusing on the people who lived through the history the Canal House tells that history in an engaging way that imparts knowledge while pretending to be simple entertainment. Nice trick.

22 June 2012

The Amsterdam Museum in, er, Amsterdam

Another damp day in early June in Amsterdam which meant finding another museum to shelter in.

And that's not a problem as Amsterdam has its fair share of museums and it is a small city so they are are close by.

The one I chose was the nearest, because it was the nearest, and that was the Amsterdam Museum.

Like the V&A in London, this has been pulled together from several building in the same area and retains their original layouts so, as a whole, it is bit of a confusing mess. Even with a map, and they copied theirs from the V&A too.

First it was upstairs to see the story of Amsterdam as it grew from a ditch to one of Europe's most vibrant cities. Here we got the good news that the Amsterdam Museum is one of the highest points in the city at 1.2m above sea level. Other parts have more confidence in the dikes than I think I would have.

The chronology runs along the length of a long room and seems to be aimed at people just like me, which is good because I am just like me.

The story flows logically (as time tends to) and the curators have selected some quirky incident to highlight along the way.

The red map of Amsterdam repeats and is bigger each time.

Unlike London, the growth is always in to pastures new, there are no villages to sweep up along the way, and this has enabled Amsterdam to keep its focus on the centre (where is the centre of London these days?).

The medieval street pattern is still very clear today as are the patterns of expansion.

Moving across the walkway to another building and going down then up (or was it up then down?) some steps takes you in to the main part of the museum where certain aspects of the history are expanded on.

A recurring theme here and in other museums is the planning that went in to Amsterdam.

All of Amsterdam's expansions have been carefully designed and controlled. It all fits together, it all feels the same, and it works.

I forget which phase of development this was, and that does not really matter. What is shows is various stages of planned and actual growth. This is a degree of planning that London gave up to speculative developers ages ago.

The museum continues its V&A look and feel in the other hard-to-find-again rooms that show aspects of Amsterdam's history in objects, drawings and film.

For some reason I did not take a photo of Rembrandt's painting of a brain being dissected with the skin peeled off the head of the corpse. Not really my cup of tea.

Kitchens are though. This is a reconstruction of one from a development that at the time would have seem very modern.

It is also designed to be functional and takes account of how people work and move in a kitchen. This was a novel idea then.

Similarly this painting shows the hopes and aspirations of another new development.

This photograph shows how much of a blank canvass planners had to work on.

The land is flat and there are no natural features to work around or fight with. Water is the natural enemy but that can be tamed with pipes and sluices.

While Amsterdam was building low-rise blocks like these London was experimenting with tower-blocks and mock-Tudor villages. Both failed in their own way.

Amsterdam has always allowed plenty of space between the buildings too so there is less of a split between urban and suburban areas - they all have space but not the profligate private space that our suburbs have.

If you put a model of a city in a museum then I am going to take a photograph of it.

It is either that or come up with a cunning plan to steal it.

This one is just lovely.

Here the zone and grid design is clear to see, as the parks and waterways.

I have focused on the maps and models because that is what I like the most but I do not want to give the impression that this is all the museum has, or even that this is what most of it is like.

I could have shared pictures of furniture, toys, fabrics, paintings, ceramics and plenty of the stuff. I did not simply because I ran out of space and wanted to show what interested me the most.

The Amsterdam Museum kept reminding me of the V&A and not least because there were unexpected surprises around every corner and I found interesting things that I did not know were going to be interesting before I found them. Like a kitchen.

The Amsterdam Museum is most definitely worth a visit, even if it is not raining.

21 June 2012

Sparks: Two Hands, One Mouth at Bush Hall

Somehow it is three years since I last saw Sparks live in concert.

That was when they played their then latest album, Exotic Creatures of the Night, on consecutive nights with different classic albums forming the second half of the set. I went to both nights.

The one and only reason that I have not seen them in concert since then is because they had not played a London concert since then. So when the Two Hands, One Mouth concert was announced I was quick off the block to get tickets. And so were many other loyal Sparks fans (London is very fond of Sparks) and it quickly sold out.

I would have gone whatever they played and in whatever format so their decision to perform as just a duet was just icing on an already exceedingly gooey cake.

Sparks fans are exceedingly keen, unlike rock fans who tend to stay in the local pub until the last moment, so even arriving at the venue half an hour or so before the doors opened there was already a substantial queue and I knew that I had no hope of being near the front, not that I ever expected that.

I went and got a veggie burger and chips from one of the many local fast food places, and that was definitely a mistake.

Once in I got to the usual front-left position, where Ron would be, the Ronald keyboard (and old pun that never fades) being bit of a clue here, and managed to shuffle myself between two tall ladies so that I had a good view of the stage over their shoulders and a reasonable view of the keyboard behind their heads. Being shorter than most you develop skills and tactics like that otherwise there would be no point in going to concerts.

Just after 8:30 the lights dimmed and Ron took the stage to play the solo piece Two Hands, One Mouth Overture that gave a taster of the delights to come.

Hints of favourites like This Town were wildly cheered.

Enter Russell stage right.

The contracts between the two is striking and deliberate. Ron in all black is silent and stationary whereas Russell gets away with green trousers and stripped tie, never ever stops moving, does the singing and provides some chat too.

What followed was a glorious trawl through their extensive back-catalogue that was fair to all periods. Each Sparks fan has their own favourites and my highlights from the evening included Metaphor (the opening number), My Baby's Taking Me Home, Never Turn Your Back on Mother Earth, Suburban Homeboy and When Do I Get to Sing "My Way"?.

These are all very singable and bouncy songs that make extensive use of repetition of words and music.

The absence of a backing band did make a difference but this was not the minimalist sound that might have been expected due to the abilities of the keyboard to conjure almost any sound required including all the disco beats for No. 1 Song etc.

Ron and Russell played to the eager audience, which is much easier to do in an intimate space like the Bush Hall, and at times I thought that Russell had leant too far and was about to fall on top of me.

This reached its zenith in the clever finale where Russell went across to the keyboards and used one finger to carry on the beat thus freeing Ron to come front and centre to do his show-piece running dance to the traditional chant of "Ron. Ron. Ron.".

This was an wonderfully crafted show delivered with panache and fun. A truly excellent evening, as always from Sparks.

And the best bit is that I get to see them do it all again in October at the Barbican.

20 June 2012

EYE on the Amstel

This was the third leg of a carefully planned day exploring the architecture of Amsterdam.

The day started with a walk around Zeeburg and continued with an exploration of NEMO and its neighbours.

To complete my objectives for the day I had to make the short walk north to the Central Station.

This looks and behaves just like a major station should. The building is both functional and decorative and has before it a large square where you can catch buses and trams.

But I was looking for another form of transport. Walking through the station takes you directly to the harbour side where ferries shuttle people and their bikes between the north and south shores.

There are three ferries that leave from adjacent docks. And that is my excuse for getting on the wrong one.

But that was no problem as the ferries are free and are walk-on-walk-off with no barriers, tickets or other such mularky.

The wrong ferry did not go very far so I just got off it long enough to take its picture before it turned around just a couple of minutes later.

It was second time lucky and the next ferry was the right one. That was just as well as the third ferry took a much longer route down the canal to the west and that would have been a much longer round trip.

The inadvertent detour was also an opportunity as a boat trip across a busy harbour is always worth doing.

One of the more obvious sights was the vast cruiser moored at the passenger terminal. Even at a distance it looks big and it dwarfs all but the tallest buildings.

Seeing a boat as big of this in harbour and then head for the Atlantic along the canal made me think of London and how we have let our nautical heritage die with the exception of one or two show pieces like HMS Belfast.

Amsterdam was founded and grew on its nautical trade but, unlike London, it still fully embraces the water. I live just a couple of hundred meters from the Thames yet the only time that I go on boats is when I am on holiday.

Getting off the right ferry brought me directly to the building that I had come to see, the EYE Film Institute, and you can see why it interested me.

One of the ways that I fuel my interest in architecture is through the blog A Daily Dose of Architecture and that introduced me to the EYE earlier this year.

The building is clearly designed to be striking and is a riverside cultural monument in much the same way that the South Bank Centre is in London or the Opera House in Oslo.

The more obvious comparison is with Oslo due to the sloping white lines. Sadly you cannot climb these slopes.

Inside it is spacious and fresh if a little familiar in that this could be the interior of any number of modern buildings.

It is the outiside that is special and luckily that is where the bar is.

The EYE sits on a little headland and from the bar there are sweeping views of the harbour where you can marvel at how such a large boat as the cruiser can pass without hitting any of the other boats.

The return ferry is a chance to consider the ferry terminal on the south side, next to the station.

The metal and glass arches that cover the tracks have been copied by a new arch that covers the road, footpaths and cycle paths that fill the narrow stretch of land between the rails and the river.

The crane is just one of many on the south side that is part of Amsterdam's continual battle for space.

You can also see another one of the blue ferries edging in to the picture. It is pretty hard to take a picture of the harbour without at least one of them in it.

Turning to look back to face north reminds you just why you made the journey in the first place.

The EYE is a sumptuous building and the fact that you have to get there by ferry makes it even more attractive.

19 June 2012

NEMO and neighbours

After the exploration of Zeeburg I headed for the eastern edge of the town, getting off the tram one stop before the Central Station.

This is an ugly industrial quarter and also home to the cruise ships passenger terminal. A few new buildings improve the area slightly but clearly there is more regeneration to be done.

My immediate target was another regeneration building, the NEMO Science Centre on the end of a long spur in to the harbour. There was a lot of water in the way and I had to cross three bridges to get their, the last of which is in the bottom-right of the picture.

It was the building that interested me, not the Science Centre inside it, though I did take advantage of the coffee bar on the ground floor to rest, drink, eat a little and make use of their free wi-fi.

Then the surprises started.

On the other side of NEMO was a collection of old boats, presumably connected with the Maritime Museum nearby.

Walking along the harbour south away from NEMO I found that you could climb up to the roof via a long set of shallow steps making a tall climb an easy one.

Climbing the steps slowly (I was in no rush to get anywhere) the views gradually changed and in a city that is relentlessly flat it was refreshing to be able to look down on things.

The whole of the rooftop of NEMO is laid out with steps to sit on, some games to play, falling water to paddle in (as people were, of course) and some of the best views in the city.

There was another cafe at the top and I was able to follow my earlier coffee with a leisurely beer while I took it all in. The beer and the views were all the better for being unexpected.

Climbing back down to the old boats I just had to take a picture of this one as Trot, or Trottie, was the name everybody called my Mum.

The other memory evoked by the boats was of the sea plays by Eugene O'Neill.

What I also liked about them was the obvious signs of function. Modern ships are like modern offices with little indication on the outside of how they work or of what is inside them.

In contrast the old boats are littered with ropes, sails, anchors, poles, winches and hooks.

The Maritime Museum is across some more water in a recently refurbished building that sits imposingly on the edge of the water certain that it has every right to be there. And it has.

Opposite, i.e. where I was standing to take this picture was a completely different building, the small, modern and oddly curved ARCAM Architecture Centre.

This was the last surprise of this part of the day's journey. If I had known the architecture centre was there then I would have planned to visit it.

It is a small building with a small exhibition space. It reminded me very much of the main exhibition room at RIBA that is also no size but somehow packed with interesting things.

One of the displays was on the architectural history of Amsterdam showing both how the city has expanded from its original centre and also the sort of buildings that made up each expansion.

The other main display was of a recent architecture competition with pictures and models of some of the entries.

Co-incidentally the winner was the Maritime Museum across the water. It won for a modern glass roof that covers the large courtyard in the centre. Not unimpressive but I thought that it been done many times before including at the British Museum and at Kings Cross Station.

NEMO and ARCAM are just a couple of hundred metres apart, the old boats lie between them and the Maritime Museum is almost in touching distance across the water. That is a lot of interesting stuff in quite a small space.

They are also exactly the sort of things that I go on holiday to see.

18 June 2012

Kingston upon Thames Society Committee: June 2012

As usual, June's meeting of the Kingston upon Thames Society Committee covered a lot of ground and had a few lively debates where opinion was divided fairly sharply.

Student accommodation

There have been several developments aimed at the many student who live and/or study in Kingston and we spent some time considering a proposal to build one for 260 students in Norbiton, next to the railway line.

Some of us felt that this was a development too far and that there were already too many developments of this kind in Kingston whereas others, including myself, thought that it was an appropriate use for the site and that catering for students directly would help to free up family homes many of which are divided in to bedsits to cater for students.

In the end we agreed (after a vote) to object to the application on the grounds of over development of the site.

Our decision making process

The previous lengthy debate caused us to question the process we should follow in order to reach a decision - we all agreed that it should not be down to just us as a group of individuals. The Committee should be representative of the Society as a whole and the aims, objectives and processes of the Society are defined in our constitution.

So we are all going to revisit our constitution, which anybody can read as it is on our website, and reconsider how we operate.

I see this as a very positive mood. It can be easy to fall into lazy patterns and this is our spur to rethink what we are about and reinvigorate how we do it.


There is a lot going on at the moment with the summer Tea Party, Heritage Open Days and the new season of speakers at our monthly public meetings.

I was surprised to learn that St Raphael's, where we are having our Tea Party, is where some of the French Royal Family were married when in exile.

We finally had our grant application from Kingston Council for the HoD brochure approved so the last obstacle seems to have been overcome.

Our Autumn speakers include one on aviation in Kingston who has impressed elsewhere.

17 June 2012

Bridges and buildings in Zeeburg, Amsterdam

The purpose in going to Amsterdam for a few days was exploration.

The limited research that I did beforehand suggested that the Python Bridge was worth seeing so a plan was formed to explore the Zeeburg area just to the east of the old heart of Amsterdam.

As with a lot of the Netherlands, this is reclaimed land. In this case it was dragged from the sea to provide more housing for the expanding Amsterdam.

Getting there was easy. A short walk towards the new opera house and then a choice of trams east. The No 9 came first.

I bought a daily travel card from the hotel which, for 7.5 euros let me travel anywhere for 24 hours. It works similarly to the Oyster card in London except that you have to swipe the badge when leaving the tram as well as when getting on. There is a conductor on board checking that you do this and who also sells tickets to those that need them.

Getting off the tram one of the first unusual buildings that you encounter is this large angular block.

It is set in a large square that cuts diagonally across the northern of the two artificial spurs built in to water.

Further down there is another diagonal cut, this time it is a wide open space. You start to get a clue for what Town Planning (long abandoned in the UK) can achieve.

The positive impact of good town planning is a subject that we will return to in other posts when I talk about some of the museums.

There are two similar bridges between the two spurs, similar in that they are both constructed of red metal with an open mesh style that offers you good views of the water. The first is a single low span with a smooth path that allows bikes to cross too.

Taking the bridge to the southern spur brings you to a heavily residential area, and one designed to be varied and interesting, as this collection of waterfront houses shows.

There are large blocks of flats too and while these appear to be designed as (relatively) cheap housing there is the same care and attention to detail with, for example, coloured bricks, interesting windows and rooftop spaces.

The area is well maintained and looked after. There is no litter and no graffiti and, instead, there are flowers and private benches that reinforce the friendly and lived in atmosphere. Again this is so missing from many English developments.

The Python Bridge gets its name, and fame, from its double curve that creates a high channel for boats to pass through. The wooden path follows its own route and weaves a little less that the metal supports do.

This is stepped path with gaps between each step, and that means that you can see the water below as you climb up.

At this point the primitive back brain argues that if you can see the water then you can fall in to it whereas the newer front brain points out that the gap is only 10 centimetres and you are considerably wider than that.

The reward for crossing (apart from getting to the other side) is the view from the middle. Looking west back towards the centre where the block we saw at the start of the walk makes a distinctive mark on the skyline.

It is good to see all the boats too. Amsterdam has never forgotten that it lives on the water in the way that London has.

The northern spur has the same feel as the southern and continues the variety of housing.

I could have picked any one of a number of examples and this one got chosen because it is so not England.

We still build twee houses that are a pastiche and a mockery of vernacular styles like Tudor and Georgian.

Amsterdam is bolder and is delighted to build new houses that look new.

Every step back toward the station is a reminder of what Amsterdam does well and England does not.

From the station two trams take me back in to the centre of Amsterdam along a different route and to a different quarter. There one story ends and another one starts. And I'll come to that one soon.